Wisconsin Book Festival (2)

Yesterday morning at the Festival, I caught an interesting panel on editors and writers and how they work together. The pairs were Dean Bakopoulos and his editor Becky Saletan, and Joan Ilber and her editor Carol Houck Smith. Saletan spoke of her role as a “mechanic,” while Smith chose the word “facilitator.” Bakopoulos spoke of getting Saletan’s first edits back on his novel and being very satisfied with what she was thumbing down – it was the same prose that he deep-down knew he’d rushed through. He was pleased she called him out on it, and said that it helped him know she was the right editor for the novel. This crew was followed by literary agents Amy Williams and Rob McQuilkin, who took part in a Q&A with the audience. I was particularly interested in their comments about how agents can preserve and nourish not only the writer-editor relationship (so they don’t have to talk about money or dwell on publicity), but the editor-book designer relationship (so the publishing officemates can feel like they’re on the same side even when they’re not).

The evening was a treat: new work from Tony Earley, Pam Houston, C.J. Hribal and Elizabeth Berg, each story commissioned by the Book Festival. I caught the first three, and Houston and Hribal were the highlights. Houston’s piece – 12 mini stories, each one in a different part of the world – had great flavor and direct emotion, and her delivery – a very slight sarcastic swagger – fit the material perfectly. As he’s done before, Hribal cast a story about families, neighborhoods, drinking. Much of it took place in the connected backyards of a single neighborhood, which brought to mind a Smokler / Gourevitch exchange from the previous night about the ‘great American novel.’ Gourevitch sounded dismissive reacting to Smokler’s hope that we some day have a great American novel that takes place in a backyard. I’m hopeful that Hribal’s working on it now.